NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover, expected to launch in July 2020, will land in Jezero crater, pictured here. The image was taken by instruments on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which regularly captures potential landing sites for future missions.
New research indicates river delta deposits within Mars’ Jezero crater—the destination of NASA’ Perseverance rover on the Red Planet—formed over time scales that promoted habitability and enhanced preservation of evidence.
Undulating streaks of land visible from space reveal rivers once coursed across the Martian surface—but for how long did the water flow? Enough time to record evidence of ancient life, according to a new Stanford study.
Scientists have speculated that the Jezero crater on Mars—the site of the next NASA rover mission to the Red Planet—could be a good place to look for markers of life. A new analysis of satellite imagery supports that hypothesis. By modeling the length of time it took to form the layers of sediment in a delta deposited by an ancient river as it poured into the crater, researchers have concluded that if life once existed near the Martian surface, traces of it could have been captured within the delta layers.
This illustration depicts NASA’s Perseverance rover operating on the surface of Mars.
“There probably was water for a significant duration on Mars and that environment was most certainly habitable, even if it may have been arid,” according to lead author Mathieu Lapôtre, an assistant professor of geological sciences at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). “We showed that sediments were deposited rapidly and that if there were organics, they would have been buried rapidly, which means that they would likely have been preserved and protected.”
Jezero crater was selected for NASA’s next rover mission partly because the site contains a river delta, which on Earth are known to effectively preserve organic molecules associated with life. But without an understanding of the rates and durations of delta-building events, the analogy remained speculative. The new research, published online on April 23 in AGU Advances, offers guidance for sample recovery in order to better understand the ancient Martian climate and duration of the delta formation for NASA’s Perseverance Rover to Mars, which is expected to launch in July 2020 as part of the first Mars sample return mission.
Extrapolating from Earth
The study incorporates a recent discovery the researchers made about Earth: Single-threaded sinuous rivers that don’t have plants growing over their banks move sideways about ten times faster than those with vegetation. Based on the strength of Mars’ gravity, and assuming the Red Planet did not have plants, the scientists estimate that the delta in Jezero crater took at least 20 to 40 years to form, but that formation was likely discontinuous and spread out across about 400,000 years.
“This is useful because one of the big unknowns on Mars is time,” Lapôtre said. “By finding a way to calculate rate for the process, we can start gaining that dimension of time.”
Because single-threaded, meandering rivers are most often found with vegetation on Earth, their occurrence without plants remained largely undetected until recently. It was thought that before the appearance of plants, only braided rivers, made up of multiple interlaced channels, existed. Now that researchers know to look for them, they have found meandering rivers on Earth today where there are no plants, such as in the McLeod Springs Wash in the Toiyabe basin of Nevada.
An unvegetated meandering river at the McLeod Springs Wash in the Toiyabe basin of Nevada is an example of what researchers think is analogous to the ancient streams of Jezero crater on Mars.
“This specifically hadn’t been done before because single-threaded rivers without plants were not really on anyone’s radar,” Lapôtre said. “It also has cool implications for how rivers might have worked on Earth before there were plants.”
The researchers also estimated that wet spells conducive to significant delta buildup were about 20 times less frequent on ancient Mars than they are on Earth today.
“People have been thinking more and more about the fact that flows on Mars probably were not continuous and that there have been times when you had flows and other times when you had dry spells,” Lapôtre said. “This is a novel way of putting quantitative constraints on how frequently flows probably happened on Mars.”
Findings from Jezero crater could aid our understanding of how life evolved on Earth. If life once existed there, it likely didn’t evolve beyond the single-cell stage, scientists say. That’s because Jezero crater formed over 3.5 billion years ago, long before organisms on Earth became multicellular. If life once existed at the surface, its evolution was stalled by some unknown event that sterilized the planet. That means the Martian crater could serve as a kind of time capsule preserving signs of life as it might once have existed on Earth.
“Being able to use another planet as a lab experiment for how life could have started somewhere else or where there’s a better record of how life started in the first place—that could actually teach us a lot about what life is,” Lapôtre said. “These will be the first samples that we’ve seen as a rock on Mars and then brought back to Earth, so it’s pretty exciting.”
– This press release was originally published on the Stanford Earth website
SpaceX Sent NASA Astronauts Into Orbit Using Linux – Futurism
This past weekend, Elon Musk-led private space company SpaceX made history by launching a pair of NASA astronauts into orbit, an accomplishment that could upset the balance of the international space industry.
According to a terrific breakdown by ZDNet, the historic launch also contributed to a shift in power from proprietary software to open source — by running the Falcon 9 rocket on a version of the open source operating system Linux.
Kernel Space Program
The unspecified version of Linux, according to ZDNet, runs on three dual-core x86 processors — a redundancy system that keeps the astronauts safe by making sure all three units agree before executing each command.
ZDNet also pointed to a 2013 Reddit post in which SpaceX employees confirmed that Dragon and Falcon 9 both on Linux.
SpaceX isn’t the first group to bring open source software into orbit.
The International Space Station itself, where the NASA astronauts launched by SpaceX are now residing, reportedly switched to Linux from Microsoft’s proprietary Windows operating system in 2013.
READ MORE: From Earth to orbit with Linux and SpaceX [ZDNet]
More on Linux: Linux Creator: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter Are “A Disease”
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Get ready to look to the night sky on Friday. A full “strawberry moon” is on the calendar, and it will come with an understated partial eclipse for some parts of the world. While the moon will be at its absolute fullest on Friday around noon PT, you’ll have several opportunities to enjoy the view. The moon will still look full from early Thursday morning through early Sunday morning, NASA said Monday.
North America will miss the eclipse, but the Virtual Telescope Project will livestream the lunar event from Italy above a view of the Rome skyline. Mark your calendar for noon PT on Friday, June 5, and visit the project’s web TV page to join in.
A penumbral eclipse is much more subtle than a total eclipse. The moon slips through the Earth’s outer (penumbral) shadow, which can trigger a slight darkening of the moon. If you didn’t know it was happening, you might miss it. A partial penumbral eclipse like the one on Friday makes it even harder to spot a difference.
Denizens of the moon, however, would notice the effects. “For spacecraft at the Moon such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), the reduction in solar power is noticeable,” NASA said.
Unfortunately, the “strawberry” nickname for the June full moon doesn’t refer to a color, but seems to be an old reference to the strawberry harvest season. NASA’s Gordon Johnston rounded up a list of alternative names for this month’s moon, including mead moon, honey moon, hot moon and planting moon.
Even if the eclipse is too faint to detect, you can still take a moment to bask in the light of a lovely full moon this week.
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